The city of Berkeley’s Housing Element was rejected by the California State Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, Monday over issues with the proposed sites for new housing and the time frames in which the proposed sites would be developed.
The HCD gave the city 120 days to fix the issues they observed in the 2023-31 Element, such as Berkeley’s permitting process, their commitment to build housing on the vacant sites and providing realistic sites and time frames to build on the proposed sites, according to a letter from HCD.
“These are completely valid complaints because knowing Berkeley and having lived here for as long as I have, this city can stretch out meetings and processes for years if you don’t keep them on it,” said Darrell Owens, policy analyst for California YIMBY, a housing advocacy organization.
Owens alleged that Berkeley committed to upzoning the city’s commercial sites and historically majority-white neighborhoods, as well as “controversial” vacant sites and various parking lots proposed to turn into housing, such as the Ashby BART station.
Additionally, Owens asserted that the city needs to affirmatively further fair housing they previously proposed, along with providing tangible timelines and plans for the development of these sites.
“The Housing Element also includes a variety of programs and policies to affirmatively further fair housing, including a commitment to upzone commercial corridors in the City’s highest-resource neighborhoods and to allow by-right housing projects in low-density residential districts,” said Jordan Klein, director of the Department of Planning and Development for the city of Berkeley, in an email.
Klein noted that on Jan. 18, Berkeley City Council approved the sixth version of the housing element and submitted it to the HCD on Jan. 23, just before the Jan. 31 deadline. The HCD then provided comments to improve the element.
Although the final version of the housing element has yet to be approved, the city did meet the requirement to adopt an element that is mostly compliant with California state law and will not be subject to the builder’s remedy.
According to city Councilmember Kate Harrison, the builder’s remedy allows developers to build with minimal restrictions on proposed sites, and goes into effect when a city does not meet the submission deadline for the housing element or if the element is not compliant with state requirements.
Harrison added that the city has been in communication with HCD for a long period of time and alleged the city is “not out of compliance” and that they just “need to make a couple adjustments.”
Another issue that HCD observed when reviewing the element was in relation to the city’s plan to create more affordable housing and their commitment to upzoning commercial areas in north Berkeley.
“Our plan is weak on how we’re going to do affordable housing,” Harrison alleged. “We need to have strategies to pay for that. I’d like to see them remove sites that were unrealistic and add strategies to fund and find locations for affordable housing.”